by Joanna Lima
The phenomenon of globalization is impacting all sectors of society, and mission agencies are no exception. Of course, mission agencies have always been concerned with culture—we have been talking about cross-cultural communication and strategies for reaching out across cultures for as long as we’ve existed
The phenomenon of globalization is impacting all sectors of society, and mission agencies are no exception. Of course, mission agencies have always been concerned with culture—we have been talking about cross-cultural communication and strategies for reaching out across cultures for as long as we’ve existed.
In the last few decades, many mission agencies have become increasingly internationalized—not just working globally, but globalized in their workforce. This has brought enormous complexity and many benefits.
In this article, I do not offer a robust theological reflection on internationalization or an apologetic. Both are vitally important, but are outside the purview of this piece. Instead, I present research that offers mission agencies the opportunity to evaluate the degree to which their organization can be described as being culturally intelligent.
The particular scientific construct of Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is relatively new, and offers a helpful paradigm for understanding what contributes to effective functioning in cross-cultural environments.
Soon Ang et al. (2007) define CQ simply as “an individual’s capability to function and manage effectively in culturally diverse settings.” As this definition suggests, CQ is typically applied to individuals. However, the concept can also be applied to teams and organizations (e.g. Ang & Inkpen 2008; Gelfand, Imai, & Fehr 2008).
Last year, I conducted research in order to determine how organizational level CQ can be measured. We might expect mission agencies to be some of the most culturally intelligent organizations around. Lundy’s (1999) formative book on globalization in mission highlights the fact that organizations need to adapt and change in light of our globalized context.
Multicultural teams are more and more the norm. Leading in multicultural contexts is now an expected competency of most of our mission leaders. But are our organizations—not just our leaders in our organizations—adapting and changing? What does a culturally intelligent organization look like, and how do we know if we’re in one, or leading one?
Here, I report on research conducted that shows five factors that identify a culturally intelligent organization, and present practical applications for mission leaders and executives.
How Do We Measure Organizational CQ?
I invited a panel of mission leaders from diverse cultures and organizations to describe a culturally intelligent organization. Through a Delphi process (a series of anonymous inputs designed to move participants toward consensus), forty items emerged that the leaders agreed would be essential in order to describe an organization as being culturally intelligent.
These items were then formed into a scale that was administered to full-time employees from ten organizations that work internationally (some faith-based, and some not). Statistical analysis revealed five factors as significant in identifying culturally intelligent organizations . These factors are leadership behavior, adaptability, training and development, intentionality, and inclusivity. These are described below, along with questions that might help us evaluate how we are doing in these areas.
Factor 1: Leadership Behavior
The first factor that is present in culturally intelligent organizations concerns the way leaders behave. This factor describes key organizational leaders who: • Modify their verbal behavior (words, tone, and style) when a cross-cultural interaction requires it
- Modify their non-verbal behavior (gestures, time, and space orientation) when a cross-cultural interaction requires it
- Check accuracy of cultural knowledge when interacting with people from different backgrounds
- Know relevant cultural values and religious beliefs
- Are confident handling the stress of working within new cultures
In other works, one characteristic of culturally intelligent organizations is that their leaders have high CQ. This finding is not a surprise, but it certainly affirms the fact that if we want to have an organization that is high in CQ, our leaders need to model that.
In the past decade, a great deal of research has been conducted that affirms that leaders who are culturally intelligent are more likely to be effective in functioning across cultures (Ng, Van Dyne, & Ang 2012). This has implications for the appointment of leaders, as well as their development and training, as noted below.
It is encouraging that CQ is something that can be developed over time. There are a number of helpful resources for leaders seeking to increase their CQ—including books by David Livermore (2009, 2015) and self-assessments (see www.culturalq.com).
Factor 2: Adaptability
The second factor that describes culturally intelligent organizations is adaptability. This involves both the characteristics of leaders and the organization itself. Adaptability is expressed through key leaders who:
- Have had extensive international experience
- Are aware of cultural differences when interacting with those of different cultural backgrounds
- Are confident working with those of different cultures
Additionally, and importantly for the broader picture of organizational-level cultural intelligence, a further item in this factor describes culturally intelligent organizations as those that adapt their way of operating when operating in different cultural environments.
The degree to which our organizations are willing to adapt to the unique contexts in which we are operating may indicate the degree to which the organization is culturally intelligent. Adaptations may include elements pertaining to policies, human resources, or structures. There has been much written on the need for international businesses to adapt according to cultural context, but relatively little in the context of mission.
Factor 3: Training and Development
Another emerging factor reflects the importance of training and development in the organization. The culturally intelligent organization is described as that which:
- Has a process in place to facilitate cultural learning
- Is committed to producing leaders and employees who are bicultural or multicultural in their skill set
- Promotes intentional reflection on cross-cultural interactions
- Responds promptly to emerging cultural issues that affect the organization
- Offers ongoing opportunities for intercultural interaction coupled with intentional reflection
These items emphasize the critical role leadership development and training play in positioning our agencies to be culturally intelligent.
As noted above, individual CQ can be assessed and developed, and in organizations where diversity is the norm, this should be a clear priority for training. Additionally, contexts for training and development can also provide great environments for articulating and reinforcing organizational core values that are congruent with CQ.
Many global mission agencies have few venues for socializing these values throughout the organization, and so maximizing opportunities for training and development to carefully articulate and inculcate these values is paramount.
Factor 4: Intentionality
The culturally intelligent organization can also be described as being intentional. Specifically:
- Key leaders ask for feedback after communicating cross culturally
- The organization intentionally monitors its cross-cultural interactions
- The organization is intentional in using inclusive language
These items highlight the fact that CQ, either at the individual of organizational level, seldom just happens. Both self-reflection and feedback from others is essential for leaders who are seeking to develop their CQ. At a minimum, leaders need to have a working knowledge of cultural value continuums, and understand mechanisms that may enhance or restrict communication and feedback.
It is not safe to assume our effectiveness in this area. Ask those who will give honest feedback. For example, if you are leading a meeting where people from several different cultural backgrounds are represented, ask for feedback regarding how you are communicating, or if there is a more effective style that will solicit a greater degree of input from those who may need to be invited to speak.
Note that even the process itself of asking for feedback needs to be culturally sensitive. Mediators may be needed to solicit input, as members of many cultures are unlikely to give feedback directly to those in leadership.
Factor 5: Inclusion
The final factor that emerged through the research in describing a culturally intelligent organization was that of inclusion. The items that reflect this factor include:
- The organization is inclusive. It gives equal opportunity to employees regardless of gender, ethnicity, etc.
- The organization strategically makes use of the diverse voices within the organization
- The organization understands the dynamics of diversity and inclusion
The culturally intelligent mission agency is one in which diversity is genuinely celebrated, and where diverse members are not showcased as tokens. Tokenism is a real risk, particularly in organizations where there is a majority culture (i.e., one culture that dominates numerically).
Authentic relationships and a genuine desire to learn from one another can help to dissipate this risk. It is one thing for organizations to have policies that are inclusive, but it takes conscious and intentional socialization to cultivate an organizational culture of inclusion. This begins with organizational leaders reinforcing the importance of making sure leaders exhibit CQ. In this regard, the need for intentionality in using inclusive language cannot be overstated.
The five factors presented in this article provide important talking points for mission agencies that are on the journey of internationalization and for any organization that has any diversity reflected in their membership.
The challenges of internationalization are complex; however, with God’s help, healthy partnerships are forming for God’s glory. Jim Pleuddemann notes that,
In this world, we may never fully perceive culture from God’s perspective, but we can begin to catch a glimpse of the beauty of the whole mosaic. Diversity is a sign of incompleteness—a paradox that will only be fully remedied when all people, nations, and languages are reunited in heaven at the great celebration of the wedding feast of the Lamb. (2011, 103)
It is this grand eschatological vision that motivates us to press into the complexity.
Ang, Soon, and Andrew Inkpen. 2008. “Cultural Intelligence and Offshore Outsourcing Success: A Framework of Firm-Level Intercultural Capability.” Decision Sciences, 39(3): 337-358.
Ang, Soon, Linn Van Dyne, Christine Koh, K. Yee Ng, Klaus Templer, Cheryl Tay, and N. Anand Chandrasekar. 2007. “Cultural Intelligence: Its Measurement and Effects on Cultural Judgment and Decision Making, Cultural Adaptation and Task Performance.” Management & Organization Review, 3(3): 335-371.
Gelfand, Michele, Linn Imai, and Ryan Fehr. 2008. “Thinking Intelligently about Cultural Intelligence.” In Handbook of Cultural Intelligence: Theory, Measurement, and Applications. Ed. Soon Ang and Linn Van Dyne, 375-387. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, Inc.
Livermore, David. 2015. Leading with Cultural Intelligence: The Real Secret to Success. 2nd ed.. New York: Amacom.
______. 2009. Cultural Intelligence: Improving Your CQ to Engage Our Multicultural World. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic.
Lundy, David. 1999. We Are the World: Globalization and the Changing Face of Missions. Milton Keynes, U.K.: Authentic Lifestyle.
Ng, Kok-Yee, Linn Van Dyne, and Soon Ang. 2012. “Cultural Intelligence: A Review, Reflections, and Recommendations for Future Research.” In Conducting Multinational Research: Applying Multinational Research: Applying Organizational Psychology in the Work Place. Eds. Ann Marie Ryan, Frederick Leong, and Frederick Oswald, 29-58. Washington, D.C.: American Pyschological Association.
Plueddemann, Jim. 2011. “Diversity and Leadership: The Challenge of Leadership in Multicultural Mission.” Evangelical Missions Quarterly, 47(1): 100-103.
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Joanna Lima, PhD, serves as the international leadership development facilitator for Pioneers, and is based in Thailand. She has had many years of experience leading multicultural teams in East Asia.
EMQ, Vol. 52, No. 4. Copyright © 2016 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.